TBA Law Blog


Posted by: Christy Gibson on Dec 30, 2014

By Kerry Krauch*

The Community Legal Center (“CLC”) is a pro bono legal services nonprofit organization in Shelby County, Tennessee. The CLC was started in 1994, and in the beginning primarily handled civil cases. The Immigrant Justice Program (“IJP”) was added when the Memphis Immigration Judges recognized that the people appearing before them desperately needed the assistance of an attorney to successfully navigate the immigration justice system. Since the IJP was started, we have assisted hundreds of immigrants with issues ranging from asylum to naturalization.

IJP clients are screened to ensure that they make less than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and, therefore, qualify for free legal services. Once the clients are screened they are scheduled for a legal clinic that we host two evenings a month at a local church. At the clinic, attorneys give advice and determine whether the case is appropriate for placement with a pro bono attorney.

Currently, the CLC employs two IJP staff attorneys and two interpreters so we rely on outside attorneys to handle many of our client’s cases. The IJP serves the jurisdiction of the Memphis Immigration Court which includes Tennessee, Arkansas, North Mississippi, and Western Kentucky. IJP staff attorneys have limited capacity and resources to serve clients outside of the Memphis area, therefore, we need attorneys from other areas of the state and the region to assist these clients. The IJP does not limit the kind of immigration assistance we offer, however, the most common kind of issues we encounter are humanitarian and family-based.

Immigration Reform

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced immigration relief that will be available for several classes of immigrants in 2015. The CLC is preparing to help clients that will qualify for this relief. We are currently identifying and informing our clients of the upcoming immigration opportunities, and we will need attorneys to assist our clients once the new process is announced.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)

The IJP recently started assisting minor children who qualify for SIJS in Memphis. SIJS is immigration relief for children present in the United States who cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abandonment, neglect, and/or abuse by one or both of their parents, it is not in their best interests to be returned to their home country, and they have been declared dependent on a state court or have been placed under the custody of an individual appointed by a state court. In Memphis, the minor’s parent or family member files a petition for guardianship in Probate Court. The Probate Court judge then makes the SIJS findings in the order which is the basis for the SIJS application that goes to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). IJP attorneys have personally filed 28 guardianship petitions and 15 of the minors have already received some form of immigration relief. IJP attorneys have also trained Memphis attorneys on SIJS. These volunteer attorneys are preparing and filing the state court petitions as well as serving as guardian ad litem. We have the potential to help many more children if we had more volunteer attorneys willing to serve. We especially need attorneys to assist children outside the Memphis area.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”)

The CLC has been assisting young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children with their DACA applications since it was announced by President Obama in 2012. DACA allows these young immigrants an opportunity to come out of the shadows by allowing them to legally work in the U.S. and offering protection from deportation for two to three years. We have recently begun helping them apply for their DACA renewals. We have assigned many DACA clients to our volunteer attorneys, and we have many clients waiting for an attorney to assist them.

U Visas & VAWA

The CLC received a Legal Assistance for Victim’s Grant through the Department of Justice in 2012, in conjunction with Memphis Area Legal Services and the YWCA-Immigrant Women’s Services. This grant enables the CLC to provide immigration services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The majority of our LAV clients apply for a U Visa, which is a form of immigration relief for victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement and/or criminal justice system. A U Visa entitles the immigrant to a work permit for four years and they can apply for lawful permanent residence after three years.

Some of our clients are married to an abusive U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident spouse. In an abusive relationship, the citizen or LPR spouse might withhold petitioning for the foreign spouse as part of the pattern of abuse. VAWA (Violence against Women Act) allows the battered, foreign spouse to self-petition for themselves. We have received over 100 individual referrals for services for LAV clients. We rely on pro bono attorneys to take some of our cases to expand our capacity to serve these deserving clients.

Alternative Spring Break (“ASB”)

Every year the University of Memphis Law School hosts Alternative Spring Break which provides pro bono opportunities for law students from around the country. The CLC typically conducts two tracks including the immigration track. CLC attorneys and staff members identify potential ASB clients and provide legal assistance during the week. We are currently preparing for 2015 ASB and need immigration attorneys to volunteer to work with the law students.

IJP staff attorneys are dedicated to helping our clients and to helping attorneys who assist our clients. IJP attorneys are available to mentor and train attorneys on unfamiliar areas of immigration law. Attorneys who take pro bono cases from us also qualify for CLE hours. If you are interested in assisting a deserving CLC client, please call 901-543-3395 or email info@clcmemphis.com.

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*Kerry Avens Krauch is a staff attorney at the Community Legal Center. She is a graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law. She can be reached at 901-543-3395 or kerryk@clcmemphis.com.